POLL: Will you watch tonight's GOP debate without Trump?
In the political realm, debates are normally dog-and-pony shows. It certainly has been the case for the Democrats this cycle.
For the Republicans, though, the debates with Donald Trump front and center have generated NFL-like TV numbers. The rhetoric is part Howard Baker and part Howard Stern. It's a mixture of learning what do they think and wondering what in the world will they say next.
With that — and with the Iowa caucus less than a week away — leave it to Trump to trump his own criss-cross rise to the top of the polls with an even more outlandish debate decision.
Yes, the one thing that will create even more talk than Trump's words will be his silence. Trump has withdrawn from tonight's debate because he believes Fox News personality Megyn Kelly has a vendetta against him. Trump, who has become fascinated with his fame and even joked that CNN should pay him for his involvement in the debate it aired that drew record ratings for the news network, wanted Kelly removed from the moderator role for tonight's event.
She was in a similar place in an early debate and asked Trump pointed — at times harsh, but for the most part fair — questions about his treatment and characterization of women.
Trump took offense to it and has bemoaned that treatment since. (To be fair, a Republican candidate claiming biased treatment from Fox News is a lot like Hillary Clinton complaining about a Clay Bennett cartoon.)
So he's out of the debate.
In truth, this may be the ever-rare, win-win moment in the marriage between media and politics.
Fox stood by Kelly and refused to be bossed around by arguably the biggest political bully this side of Donald Rumsfeld. Kudos for that decision, especially considering Trump's popularity, and there are a lot of us who were pleasantly surprised by it.
That said, to say this will have that much of an effect on the ratings is short-sighted. Before, most tuned in to see what Trump would say. Now people will be watching to see what the field will say about Trump.
As for The Donald's decision, on the surface it seems to be the political definition of cutting off his nose to spite his face. It also raises a fair question about how he would handle criticism or hard-line negotiations if he was elected president.
As for tonight, Trump is the frontrunner, and he's not going to be there to defend himself from the river of attacks from a field looking to make up as much ground as quickly as possible.
But this allows Trump a couple of loopholes, too. First, his strong suit has never been exchanging ideas or talking politics with a stage full of politicians. So, as the number of candidates dwindles and the questions and focus tighten, there is value for Trump in actually not being there.
Plus, the reason he chose to skip this event can be effectively and easily spun to his supporters.
"The media is out to get me," he can say, playing into the hands of a voting public that is almost as angry with the messengers (the media) as they are with the message they get from Washington.
"We won't play by anyone else's rules," he can say, playing to a nation of voters tired of the status quo and looking for leaders strong enough to make sacrifices and hard choices.
So the rest of the field has the chance to swing at The Donald. It will be interesting, and here's saying that Trump's Twitter feed will be a must-watch during the debate.
Have at it, boys. Swing the haymakers. Because five days before Iowa, we're all ears.
Contact Jay Greeson at email@example.com. His "Right to the Point" column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.